I shoved my rear-end closer to the window as the plane prepared for take-off. The passenger beside me stretched out to get comfortable. I tried to make myself smaller so that I would not be an inconvenience for the person wedged next to me in these impossibly small airplane seats. Never mind that I had the right to occupy my entire seat. In my mind, I had no rights. The space that I occupied was space that I shouldn’t take up. As I tried to become smaller so that the person beside of me could expand, I realized that I held a core belief that was horribly faulty. I could not change my system of thinking on my own. It was too deeply embedded. That plane ride was four years ago, before I became sick.
My belief that I was not allowed to take up space was birthed out of a great deal of trauma and abuse. When a child is taught that she is evil and at fault for the evils that are committed against her, she learns that she must try desperately to disappear in order to make the world a better place. Before I learned the truth of my identity in Christ, I held white-knuckled to this belief. I held so closely to it that I tried to rid the world of my very existence. When this type of reality is drilled into your head early in life, it seems nearly impossible to unlearn.
God has a masterful way of using horrible situations to help us grow in ways that we never thought possible. When I got sick, I started to take up more space. I’m not talking actual physical space necessarily, but a wheelchair certainly takes up more space in a vehicle. It is harder to hide when you are ill. You have many more needs than a healthy person. Those around you are more aware of you and the risks that come with your presence. With food restrictions, you make a challenging dinner guest. Often, your dietary limitations dictate the menu for the evening. When you are a house guest, you quickly become aware of how high-maintenance you are. Your special diet, need for rest, wheelchair requirements, and medications are front and center.
As my illness gets more severe, I seem to be ever-expanding. I can’t disappear into the background like I once did. In a recent church meeting, at each break, many individuals turned to check on me: to see how I was feeling, if I needed anything to drink, if I needed to lie down.
I am so appreciative of the care that I receive. I need it. And I resist it. God is using my illness, however, to show me that it is okay to take up space. He is showing me how wonderfully loved that I am, and that He created me to take up a certain amount of space. He designed me in such a way to make an impact on people, to leave footprints, to change lives. I can’t do that without taking up space and owning my space.
So here’s the thing: In God’s gracious, generous way of making every little broken thing beautiful, He is transforming my illnesses and disabilities into powerful teachers. He is using them to show me how incredibly valuable that I am. He is teaching me that I am worth every square-inch of space that I take up. He is showing me that I am worth the care that people give me. Why am I worth it? Because I am His child. As a child of God, I have a right to take up space. Not only do I have a right to take up space, but my existence is important and cherished.
I do not need to try to shrink myself into a half of a plane seat in order to make someone else more comfortable. I can lean over and start a conversation with my fellow passenger, and we can enjoy the gift of one another. I don’t have to dismiss my dietary restrictions in order to make my hostess’s job easier. I can graciously accept generosity and allow others to love and care for me.
Graciously receiving is a gift to the giver and the receiver.
I have lived a life dominated by the lie that I don’t deserve to take up space, and my illnesses have given me the opportunity to take a step back and realize the value of my existence and the space that I occupy. God created me. I wasn’t a mistake. I am still not a mistake. I don’t have to apologize for my existence. I also don’t have to apologize for being ill. I have always been and will be valuable because I am a daughter of God.
There may be those out there who are reading this and thinking, “Well, no duh, Sherlock. Of course you can take up space. We all can.” I am so thankful that you have never had to experience the torture of having to live apologetically, desperately trying to pay penance for your very existence.
For those of you who can relate, please hear me: You are valuable. You are made in the image of God. You can take up the space that you take up. You’re worth it because God calls you worthy.
And He is making every little broken thing beautiful.